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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a Content Marketer’s Dream: 7 Lessons

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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a Content Marketer’s Dream: 7 Lessons

Updated Nov. 22, 2022

Millions gather to view your content marketing on their screens.

Crowds line up over two miles just to get a glimpse of your content in real life.

That’s the stuff of content marketers’ dreams. And it’s the reality for marketers at Macy’s, the U.S. department store chain that has put on a parade in New York City every Thanksgiving since 1924.

I’m a big fan of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I traveled to see it twice, and I never miss watching it on television. And that’s before I realized it’s all content marketing. Here are some lessons that struck me.

1. Steal ideas – just make them better

Macy’s wasn’t the first department store to host a parade as a content marketing tool for the Christmas buying season. In 1920, the Gimbel Brothers department store in Philadelphia created the first one. Four years later – the same year Macy’s launched its parade – the J.L. Hudson Co. department store started one in Detroit. Though those parades continue today, Gimbels and Hudson’s haven’t been involved for decades. Hudson’s ceased its parade connection when it closed its Detroit flagship in the late 1970s. (The chain was later bought by Macy’s). And the Philadelphia department store was liquidated in the mid-1980s.

Original ideas are hard to come by (some say there aren’t any). Don’t spend all your time trying to create something no one’s done. Look for existing inspiration. You may find content that isn’t living up to its potential – and then you can take the opportunity to do it better.

You don’t need original ideas. Just do existing ones better. That’s what @Macys did in creating its New York Thanksgiving Day parade, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

2. Stick with what works, adjust what doesn’t

The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade stretched over six miles and featured nursery rhyme characters, store employees dressed as clowns and cowboys, and animals from the Central Park Zoo. A float carrying Santa and a reindeer-pulled sleigh closed the parade.

In the 21st century, the parade traverses only 2.5 miles to ensure a tighter show. It features multi-story-tall balloons that long ago replaced the zoo animals. It welcomes brands other than Macy’s into the act (think Pillsbury Dough Boy and Ronald McDonald). Marching bands from around the country, floats featuring lip-syncing celebrities, and live characters like the gang from Sesame Street expand the appeal.

Santa’s sleigh and reindeer are far more elaborate now, but the jolly fella retains his almost 100-year-old place in the parade – the final act anticipated by young and old.

When you have an enduring content star, go ahead and tweak it. Don’t use the same old, same old content all the time. Each year, Macy’s creates a curiosity gap: What new balloons will debut? Which will be retired?

@Macys creates a curiosity gap every year as audiences wonder what new balloons will debut and which will be retired, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

What annual content can you create that entices your audience to return again and again? At CMI, for example, we create content marketing research reports every year. Some of the questions in the research questionnaire remain the same each year, but we add new ones based on our audience’s needs, industry trends, and global changes.

Think about how to freshen up your content by adding new ideas or trying different formats.

Think about how to freshen up your #content by adding new ideas or trying different formats, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

For example, a B2B brand might add a new department focused on remote work to its quarterly magazine. A B2C brand might shoot short, tip-focused videos based on information from blog articles.

The opportunities to adjust your content mix – topic, format, etc. – are endless.

3. Look at things from a different perspective

Let’s get to the truth. Despite the name (and the turkey float), the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has little to do with Thanksgiving. It’s really about the shopping season leading up to the biggest gift-giving occasions of the year. The floats, balloons, and songs all revolve around the red-and-green holiday. In fact, the event’s initial name was Macy’s Christmas Parade. Macy’s, as a business, isn’t focused on the Thanksgiving holiday. Macy’s cares about the timing of Thanksgiving – a month or so before the gift exchanges begin.

Think about traditional events or activities in your industry. How can you create content that turns them on their head? Let’s say your company has a booth at the same trade show every September. Instead of crafting another evergreen white paper to showcase your thought leadership, use the event as the exclusive release site for a must-have report on industry predictions for the coming year. Make that report the center of your content hub for the quarter, giving it life far beyond the two-day event.

4. Don’t go solo

Macy’s isn’t the only brand involved in the parade. McDonald’s sends up a Ronald McDonald balloon accompanied by his giant shoe car on the ground. Kraft’s Kool-Aid Man crashed the party for many years. Jennie-O’s Big Turkey Spectacular, Dreamworks’ Boss Baby, and Sinclair Oil’s baby dinos participate this year. And brands like Olay, Entenmann’s, Wonder Bread, and Lego host floats. Each branded parade entry is an example of sponsored content.

Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade is a Content Marketers Dream 7

Image source

Each branded float in the @Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade is an example of #SponsoredContent, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

If a sponsored content model doesn’t fit your organization’s content strategy, you can still find ways to connect with other companies. For example, accept guest blogs on your site or craft guest content for non-competing brands that have similar target audiences.

5. Interact with your audience

In 2020, Macy’s used its Twitter account to engage with its audience before and during the parade. In addition to previewing that year’s attractions, Macy’s conducted a series of promoted tweets (that’s how they found me, though I didn’t remember to save one to share here). The tweet said Macy’s would send me a reminder about the parade if I picked my favorite parade activity and tweeted about it.

So I did:

Two hours before the parade started, I got this personalized reminder tweet:

When you try to engage your audience members on Twitter, think about inviting them into your account or brand. That requires more than clicking a heart or retweeting. Make it personal. Give them something fun or valuable to share. Follow up with more personalized content.

6. Scrutinize your language

While I liked Macy’s approach to personalizing Twitter that year, I wasn’t a fan of its use of the word “diverse” in a 2020 tweet intended to celebrate Zeta Phi Beta, a Black sorority celebrating 100 years and making its first appearance in the parade:

TheJasmineBRAND grabbed the tweet before Macy’s removed it a couple of hours after it caused an outcry:

Poor, wrong, or ignorant word choices eliminate any value your content might have had and can hurt the brand. Proofread your content not only for spelling and grammar but also for intent, interpretation, inclusivity, and so on. Macy’s misstep also teaches another writing lesson – creating inclusive and diverse content usually doesn’t require you to point out that it’s diverse and inclusive.

Creating inclusive and diverse #content usually doesn’t require you to point out that it’s diverse and inclusive, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

7. Start small

Macy’s didn’t set up a grandiose event in 1924. The parade entries covered only two blocks and included about 50 people. But that was enough to enthrall tens, if not hundreds of thousands, to show up along the six-mile route. Though the media barely covered the event, the audience response prompted Macy’s to announce a few weeks later that the parade would return the next year. (It wasn’t until the parade made its television debut almost 30 years later that Macy’s got national attention and drew in millions more fans.)

What are your content marketing dreams (i.e., big goals)? They may seem overly ambitious, but is there a minimum viable content product you could really create that might lead to making those dreams come true? Start planning today.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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YouTube Ad Specs, Sizes, and Examples [2024 Update]

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YouTube Ad Specs, Sizes, and Examples

Introduction

With billions of users each month, YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine and top website for video content. This makes it a great place for advertising. To succeed, advertisers need to follow the correct YouTube ad specifications. These rules help your ad reach more viewers, increasing the chance of gaining new customers and boosting brand awareness.

Types of YouTube Ads

Video Ads

  • Description: These play before, during, or after a YouTube video on computers or mobile devices.
  • Types:
    • In-stream ads: Can be skippable or non-skippable.
    • Bumper ads: Non-skippable, short ads that play before, during, or after a video.

Display Ads

  • Description: These appear in different spots on YouTube and usually use text or static images.
  • Note: YouTube does not support display image ads directly on its app, but these can be targeted to YouTube.com through Google Display Network (GDN).

Companion Banners

  • Description: Appears to the right of the YouTube player on desktop.
  • Requirement: Must be purchased alongside In-stream ads, Bumper ads, or In-feed ads.

In-feed Ads

  • Description: Resemble videos with images, headlines, and text. They link to a public or unlisted YouTube video.

Outstream Ads

  • Description: Mobile-only video ads that play outside of YouTube, on websites and apps within the Google video partner network.

Masthead Ads

  • Description: Premium, high-visibility banner ads displayed at the top of the YouTube homepage for both desktop and mobile users.

YouTube Ad Specs by Type

Skippable In-stream Video Ads

  • Placement: Before, during, or after a YouTube video.
  • Resolution:
    • Horizontal: 1920 x 1080px
    • Vertical: 1080 x 1920px
    • Square: 1080 x 1080px
  • Aspect Ratio:
    • Horizontal: 16:9
    • Vertical: 9:16
    • Square: 1:1
  • Length:
    • Awareness: 15-20 seconds
    • Consideration: 2-3 minutes
    • Action: 15-20 seconds

Non-skippable In-stream Video Ads

  • Description: Must be watched completely before the main video.
  • Length: 15 seconds (or 20 seconds in certain markets).
  • Resolution:
    • Horizontal: 1920 x 1080px
    • Vertical: 1080 x 1920px
    • Square: 1080 x 1080px
  • Aspect Ratio:
    • Horizontal: 16:9
    • Vertical: 9:16
    • Square: 1:1

Bumper Ads

  • Length: Maximum 6 seconds.
  • File Format: MP4, Quicktime, AVI, ASF, Windows Media, or MPEG.
  • Resolution:
    • Horizontal: 640 x 360px
    • Vertical: 480 x 360px

In-feed Ads

  • Description: Show alongside YouTube content, like search results or the Home feed.
  • Resolution:
    • Horizontal: 1920 x 1080px
    • Vertical: 1080 x 1920px
    • Square: 1080 x 1080px
  • Aspect Ratio:
    • Horizontal: 16:9
    • Square: 1:1
  • Length:
    • Awareness: 15-20 seconds
    • Consideration: 2-3 minutes
  • Headline/Description:
    • Headline: Up to 2 lines, 40 characters per line
    • Description: Up to 2 lines, 35 characters per line

Display Ads

  • Description: Static images or animated media that appear on YouTube next to video suggestions, in search results, or on the homepage.
  • Image Size: 300×60 pixels.
  • File Type: GIF, JPG, PNG.
  • File Size: Max 150KB.
  • Max Animation Length: 30 seconds.

Outstream Ads

  • Description: Mobile-only video ads that appear on websites and apps within the Google video partner network, not on YouTube itself.
  • Logo Specs:
    • Square: 1:1 (200 x 200px).
    • File Type: JPG, GIF, PNG.
    • Max Size: 200KB.

Masthead Ads

  • Description: High-visibility ads at the top of the YouTube homepage.
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080 or higher.
  • File Type: JPG or PNG (without transparency).

Conclusion

YouTube offers a variety of ad formats to reach audiences effectively in 2024. Whether you want to build brand awareness, drive conversions, or target specific demographics, YouTube provides a dynamic platform for your advertising needs. Always follow Google’s advertising policies and the technical ad specs to ensure your ads perform their best. Ready to start using YouTube ads? Contact us today to get started!

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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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